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Angela Tilby: Gosport, uncovering the buried truth

29 June 2018

THE first TV van arrived on Tuesday evening, and parked beside the cathedral green. A grey dawn brought others, spilling their TV crews, reporters, and satellite dishes, while a small crowd gathered with displays and banners.

This was the day when the Gosport Independent Panel published its long-awaited report (News, 22 June). Inside, the nave chairs were set out as for a Sunday eucharist, but, instead of the altar, there was a long conference table for the reporting panel, topped with a sombre grey cloth.

As the bereaved families began to arrive, I spoke to a man protesting outside, who told me that this inquiry was only a beginning and might yet be a fudge; he believed that what had gone on at Gosport was still happening elsewhere. His own mother had died unexpectedly after a heavy prescription of opiates in hospital.

The report was delivered behind closed doors. Later, we heard that when Bishop James Jones finally told the bereaved families that they had been right all along, there was an audible sigh of relief. For the first time, the truth was being acknowledged. In a country where euthanasia is banned, and even assisted dying remains illegal, frail people were routinely hastened to their deaths by NHS staff — and almost no one batted an eyelid.

At the end of the day, when the crowds had gone and only the TV crews remained for their final bulletins, I went to a quiet eucharist in the cathedral’s east end. I wondered if the place would feel disturbed by the emotions of the day, but all was peaceful: sorrow and rage had been absorbed somehow. I was more than usually aware of the theme of betrayal in the eucharistic narrative.

Later that night, there was a sudden violent wind that rattled the windows. It felt like a wind of heaven, a sign of divine anger against officialdom’s “desire not to know”, which would be described by the health-data expert, Sir Brian Jarman, on Radio 4’s Today programme the next morning. The hospital authorities, the police, and even the Department of Health simply buried what was going on at Gosport, and bullied and fired those who asked questions. Whether it was wickedness or stupidity, no one wanted to know.

The NHS has been described as our national religion; but the basic morality of those who work in it is rarely questioned. Instead, we choose to see doctors and nurses as saints; and, of course, many of them are.

But we must never forget that public idols are false gods. Unless we unmask them, they will, in time, deaden our consciences and even threaten our lives.

The sin of Adam and Eve in the garden was not only eating the apple, but then hiding, denying, and shifting the blame.

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